When is it correct to use “to” plus –ing? (part 1)

WRONG
I look forward to talk to you on Friday afternoon.
RIGHT
I look forward to talking to you on Friday afternoon.

As the example above shows, sometimes it is correct to use “to” plus the –ing form of a verb.

Many non-native English speakers are reluctant to use –ing after “to”. Maybe this is because you learnt at school that after “to” a verb should always be in the infinitive.

This is only half true. “To” actually has two uses – EITHER as an infinitive marker (i.e. to show that the next word is an infinitive verb – e.g. The Company wishes to purchase the shares), OR as a preposition (e.g. He has gone to lunch).

When “to” acts as a preposition it is usually followed by an –ing form (which in this case is a gerund) or a noun/noun phrase, as in these examples:

WRONG
There is no obstacle to register the company.
RIGHT (-ing form)
There is no obstacle to registering the company.
RIGHT (noun phrase)
There is no obstacle to the registration of the company.

WRONG
I do not recommend committing yourself to purchase the shares yet.
RIGHT (-ing form)
I do not recommend committing yourself to purchasing the shares yet.
RIGHT (noun phrase)
I do not recommend committing yourself to the purchase of the shares yet.

WRONG
Public procurement legislation has undergone some major changes in recent years due to implement EU public procurement directives.
RIGHT (-ing form)
Public procurement legislation has undergone some major changes in recent years due to implementing EU public procurement directives.
RIGHT (noun phrase)
Public procurement legislation has undergone some major changes in recent years due to the implementation of EU public procurement directives.

WRONG
I look forward to hear from you.
RIGHT (-ing form)
I look forward to hearing from you.
RIGHT (noun phrase)
I look forward to your reply.

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. The next post looks at these.
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12 Responses to When is it correct to use “to” plus –ing? (part 1)

  1. Rudi says:

    As a non-native English speaker I always confuse with this to+V+ing form, but after reading this article I am fully understand know the different usage. Thank you.

  2. Lucia says:

    With object plus ing?

  3. knowledge1202 says:

    […] OR as a preposition (e.g. He has gone to lunch) […]
    I can’t comprehend it yet. You write in your example “he has gone to lunch” and “to” acts as a preposition. So why do we say herer “to lunch” rather than “to lunching”?

    Could you please give us the general rule, where to use(ing???) ing and where not?

    I can’t feel, why “I look forward to hear from you.” is wrong and with ing is right.
    Is there any difference in the meaning in those two sentences?

    Thanks a lot

    • Perhaps I chose a bad example. “Lunch” is normally used as a noun, but it is very occasionally used as a verb too. You’re thinking of it being used as a verb, whereas I’m using it as a noun in the example. Look at these examples instead: “He has gone to the office”. Here “to” is a preposition followed by a noun. And another: “He has gone to meet his wife at the airport.” Here “to” is an infinitive marker followed by a verb without -ing.

      I gave the general rule in the post: When “to” acts as a preposition it is usually followed by an –ing form (which in this case is a gerund) or a noun/noun phrase. And when “to” acts as an infinitive marker it is followed by an infinitive.

      I admit that there is a degree of “feeling” which is correct.

      With the phrase “I look forward to hearing from you” you must use the -ing form of “hearing” because “look forward to” is a phrasal verb. The “to” is a preposition and part of the phrasal verb, not an infinitive marker for “hear”.

      “I look forward to hear from you” is simply wrong. There is no difference in meaning.

  4. nurah says:

    This is a very helpful explanation of a challenging concept for my ELL’s. Thank you!

  5. ashi says:

    Thank you for the useful post. Could you please help me in this:
    In an impudent move, the defendant spoke out of order _______ terribly insulting things to the judge.
    a) to say
    b) to saying
    c) saying

    • I would use “saying”. “To say” may seem correct, but it implies that the defendant spoke out of order “to say terribly insulting things” because he could not have said such insulting things in the ordinary course of events. “To saying” is incorrect.

  6. Monir from Bangladesh says:

    how i understand that when “To ” is use as preposition or when use as infinitive??

    • I agree that it is difficult. You need to know whether the word or phrase that follows “to” is a verb (in which case “to” is an infinitive marker) or a noun/noun phrase (in which case “to” is a preposition). If “to” is followed by an -ing form, the -ing form must be a gerund (i.e. a word that looks like a verb but behaves grammatically like a noun). This example demonstrates this:
      WRONG
      I do not recommend committing yourself to purchase the shares yet.
      RIGHT (-ing form)
      I do not recommend committing yourself to purchasing the shares yet.
      RIGHT (noun phrase)
      I do not recommend committing yourself to the purchase of the shares yet.

      • Jesus Sandoval says:

        In the same note, please explain to me the reasoning behind this paragraph: (to writing)
        A) Figure 1.2 provides an overview of this Guide’s approach to writing a successful design-build RFP and forms the basis of this guide.
        What will be the reasoning by using: (to write)
        B) Figure 1.2 provides an overview of this Guide’s approach to write a successful design-build RFP and forms the basis of this guide.
        In paragraph “A”, is the phrase “a successful design-build RFP and forms the basis of this guide” acting as a noun phrase?
        Please help me out dissecting the entire paragraph. Thanks!

      • Sentence A is correct; sentence B is wrong. What the sentence is saying is “Figure 1.2 provides an overview to this Guide’s approach to something“. “Writing a successful design-build RFP” is this thing. “Writing” is a gerund here – an -ing form that behaves grammatically like a noun. It cannot be a verb, so “write” is incorrect. The “to” that precedes “writing” is a preposition, not an infinitive marker.

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